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Transportation and Health in Oregon

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Success Stories

Agencies Working Together

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Oregon Health Authority - Public Health Division (OHA-PHD) have entered into an agreement (Memorandum of Understanding or MOU) to work collaboratively to identify, develop and promote connections between public health and transportation.

Making good transportation policy and funding choices can influence the health of Oregonians, reduce the burden of health care costs, and create a better quality of life in our communities. The five leading causes of death in Oregon are cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries – each of which can be influenced by transportation choices and options.

Communications and Planning

ODOT and OHA have shared the stage at many public events to speak about the collaboration between the two agencies. In addition to speaking at conferences, activities include making presentations to Area Commissions on Transportation (ACTs), bringing together local public health and transportation professionals for training and relationship building through the Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, and engaging staff from the two agencies on technical advisory committees.

Research and Data Analysis

Both agencies have rich data resources and skilled analysis teams that help us do our work. Through the MOU, the two agencies are working together to see how we can share our data to improve our decision making and understanding on a range of topics. For example, ODOT, OHA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have a subcommittee looking at opportunities to better integrate health and air quality information into transportation modeling.

Safe and Active Transportation

Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for chronic disease and premature death in the U.S. – more powerful than high blood sugar, high cholesterol, or alcohol and drug use. Providing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, supporting educational programs like Safe Routes to School, and supporting transportation options all help encourage physical activity for better health, and reduce health care costs by decreasing rates of chronic disease.

Safety is a critical issue. Engineers know well that people have default behaviors in relation to streetscape cues – it’s the art and science of maintaining flow, controlling speed, calming traffic, and other interventions, many of which can support better, healthier choices, whether that be safer driving or inducing more people to use an active mode.

Leveraging Opportunities

In 2014, OHA formed the Oregon Pedestrian Injury Prevention Action Team, composed of members from OHA, ODOT and local transportation specialists. The team received a small grant as part of a pilot program on pedestrian safety co-sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The team brought together their collective staff knowledge, evidence on best practices, and agency data to offer a three-hour Pedestrian Safety Webinar Training, which was widely disseminated through Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Consortium. As a complement to the training, the team developed a mini-grant program and supported three local jurisdictions to advance work on their local Pedestrian Safety Action Plans. The grants enhanced community-wide pedestrian safety efforts by offering additional local training, strengthening partnerships among those that have a stake in pedestrian safety, and implementing education, encouragement and enforcement activities. This is just one example of the ways the two agencies have worked together.

How Transportation and Health Relate

Children supporting Walking and Biking to School The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Institute of Medicine, and other leading health organizations have reviewed a large body of evidence related to transportation behavior and health outcomes, and concluded that specific policies and investment strategies can indeed have measurable impacts on health. By getting more Oregonians walking, biking, and using transit, we can:
  • Cut air pollution that contributes to respiratory and heart illnesses;
  • Reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries from crashes;
  • Increase physical activity to reduce rates of diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases;
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Alleviate the high cost of transportation on Oregon families.
Lifestyle, behavior, environmental and social factors account for at least 60 percent of our health status, while medical care only accounts for about 10 percent. The graphic below shows how powerful a tool public infrastructure can be in creating a healthy environment.

Health and transportation also have a shared interest in serving vulnerable populations such as the elderly and persons with disabilities. Sidewalks which meet American’s With Disabilities (ADA) guidelines, quality transit and paratransit services are critical to these populations to maintain quality of life and ensure access to medical services, shopping, work and social engagement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  How are public health and transportation related?
Public health is largely determined by the “social determinants of health” which include the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illness and the built environment in which people live. These circumstances are in turn shaped by a wider set of forces: economics, social policies, and politics. Transportation relates to public health in several areas. For example, the availability and circumstances of walking, biking, and public transportation options and auto use have different impacts on an individuals’ level of physical activity, weight, heart health, rates of vehicle fatalities and injuries, and mental health (e.g. road rage, social isolation). Exposure to vehicle emissions is related to higher rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, climate change and environmental hazards (e.g. pollution, water quality, heat islands).
  What is an HIA and when should it be used?
A Health Impact Assessment, or HIA, is one way to characterize how transportation decisions influence health. HIA is a formal, defined framework for bringing a comprehensive health lens to transportation decisions. HIAs synthesize evidence from across disciplines, stakeholder input, and current conditions to understand potential health impacts before decisions are finalized. This information enables decision makers to develop evidence-based approaches to promote health for all. HIAs improve decision makers’ ability to:
  • Formalize collaboration across sectors to resolve complicated challenges;
  • Analyze health impacts across a range of alternatives;
  • Avoid unintended consequences;
  • Engage affected communities and leaders;
  • Promote health, equity, and sustainability; and
  • Consider clear, actionable recommendations for improving health outcomes
HIAs focus on a specific decision or set of decisions. Successful and meaningful HIAs typically feature an engaged advisory committee and an assessment scope that emphasizes social and environmental determinants of health.
  Is transportation really a big factor in air quality?
Emissions from combustion engines contribute to air pollution and can have serious health implications, especially for children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions, including asthma. Fine particulate matter from all air pollution sources, including transportation emissions, contributes to more emergency department visits, heart attacks and lung cancer.6 As noted by the Statewide Transportation Strategy, in Oregon the transportation sector is responsible for approximately one-third of all GHG emissions.7 Thus, there is a shared interest in reducing air pollution and emissions and to reduce GHG emissions to comply with Oregon state legislation regarding climate change mitigation (HB 2001 and SB 1059).
  What is the Memorandum of Understanding?
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ODOT and OHA-PHD is a voluntary agreement between the two agencies to work collaboratively to identify, develop and promote the connections between public health and transportation.
  Where does the money for transportation projects come from?
There are three sources of transportation funding: Federal, State and Local. Federal and State are largely funded by the gas tax. ODOT administers federal and state transportation dollars for most of the state except for the largest urban areas (over 200,000) which receive their federal dollars directly. Funds are pre-allocated into programs that determine what types of projects or programs they can be used for.
  How is state and federal money for transportation allocated?
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, known as the STIP, is Oregon’s four-year transportation capital improvement program. It is the document that identifies the funding for, and scheduling of, transportation projects and programs. The STIP is important because federal and state money cannot be spent on projects unless they are listed in the STIP. The STIP is “fiscally constrained” – it cannot contain more projects than there is money for. Before items can make it into the STIP, they have to be scoped to get a realistic idea of how much the project will cost.
  What are Transportation System Plans?
Cities and Counties are required to develop a Transportation System Plan (TSP) which is a long range 20 year plan that describes how the local transportation network will be built out and maintained. It should address all modes of transportation including cars, bikes, pedestrians and freight movement. The TSP is an element of the jurisdictions’ Comprehensive Plan, which addresses other topics such as land use.
  What are Regional Transportation System Plans?
Metropolitan regions of over 50,000 are designated as Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). MPOs are required to develop a Regional Transportation System plan (RTSP) which incorporates local jurisdictions.
  What other resources are available?
  • Oregon State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP): Addresses the leading causes of death, disease, and injury in Oregon through evidence-based and measurable strategies intended to improve the health of all people in Oregon by 2020. Plans are also developed at the county level.
  • Oregon Transportation Safety Action Plan (TSAP): Provides long-term goals, policies and strategies and near-term actions to eliminate deaths or life-changing injuries on Oregon's transportation system by 2035.